This week, Paulist Fathers, Paulist Associates, and other collaborators in Paulist ministry have been meeting for a special Pre-Assembly meeting - to set the stage, if not the precise agenda, for the forthcoming Paulist General Assembly, which will meet in New York and Washington, DC, in May and June. Although part of an ongoing process, which continues through the General Assembly, this pre-Assembly meeting has itself come at the end of an eventful and challenging year for the Church.
It was, after all, just a little over a year ago that Pope Benedict XVI resigned the papacy. And then it was one year ago today, on March 13, 2013, that Pope Francis was elected as his successor. And what a year it has been for us all as Pope Francis has challenged us to embark on a new chapter of evangelization! Just by being himself, Pope Francis has captured the world’s imagination and interest, even as he has invited and challenged us move forward on new paths - in effect saying to the entire Church in the 21st century what Servant of God Isaac Hecker said to the Paulist Fathers in the 19th: “Our power will be in presenting the same old truths in new forms, fresh new tone and air and spirit.”
For the Paulist Fathers also, this has also been a very eventful year, as the Community has chosen a new President and a new leadership team, while grappling with the challenge of responding, with diminished numbers and reduced resources, to a rapidly changing Church and American social reality . The General Assembly and the Community’s newly elected leaders will be called upon to address many complex questions concerning the Church's mission to a North American society undergoing rapid and radical transition.
These circumstances, the lasting legacy of Servant of God Isaac Hecker, and the teaching and example of Pope Francis are challenging us all to embrace the call of the New Evangelization, which at its heart invites us all to a renewed encounter with Jesus Christ. As Pope Francis has reminded us in his recent Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, “we were created for what the Gospel offers us: friendship with Jesus and love of our brothers and sisters. … It is impossible to persevere in a fervent evangelization unless we are convinced from personal experience that it is not the same thing to have known Jesus as not to have known him, not the same thing to walk with him as to walk blindly, not the same thing to hear his word as not to know it, and not the same thing to contemplate him, to worship him, to find our peace in him, as not to” (Evangelii Gaudium, 265).
I think that all of us in the Church are being challenged to make the most of what may be an especially privileged moment in the history of the contemporary Church, and so to take a new look at who we are and what we are about, and to broaden our reach and that of the entire Church.
In that same Exhortation, Pope Francis has reminded us of the missionary power of intercessory prayer. And surely we all have much to pray about!